The Franchise. Simultaneously one of the most popular and unpopular words currently floating around the world of cinema. It’s popular with the studio bean-counters, who love the idea of having a guaranteed blockbuster year after year, providing a steady income from ticket receipts and merchandise opportunities. It also seems to be pretty popular with audiences, who queue up to see the latest sequel to emerge from Hollywood. I read today how Resident Evil: Extinction is the seventh “threequel” (i.e. the third episode of a franchise) to be released this year, and the seventh to reach No.1 in its opening weekend.
The Franchise is however unpopular with critics of Hollywood, who write about the dearth of imagination in modern movie-making and talk about the good old days of the 1970s when filmmakers were allowed a free reign on what was made and succeeded in producing some of the most remarkable and memorable films ever. And to some extent, they do have a point. The world of cinema today is a different one from the 70s, and the great films made then remain classics of their time. One has difficulty thinking of a recent film that could equal the dark majesty of The Godfather for instance.
But Franchise has now become a dirty word, used to describe Hollywood movie-making at its brainless, soul-destroying worst. And it is perhaps true that in some quarters this reputation is justified. Examples abound of inferior sequels to great or good originals. It is far harder to think of sequels that equal or even surpass their progenitor.
But I would like to offer a few words in defence of the Franchise. Firstly, I like sequels. Not all sequels, obviously – there have been some that should simply be buried underground in concrete bunkers, or blasted off into space on a collision course with the sun (Batman & Robin, I’m looking at you). But the notion of returning to a universe that I enjoyed first time around is a very appealing one, particularly as there is often little opportunity to do so. Movies are generally one-offs: they tell a story, and then they end. That’s part of their appeal. But return trips, when they work, can be just as great. Forgive me for dragging in the Alien franchise to my blog again, but James Cameron proved that building on Ridley Scott’s universe was fantastically worthwhile. And Francis Ford Coppola’s own The Godfather Part II successfully expanded the story of the Corleone family.
But these are genuine sequels you say, not Franchises with multiple money-making opportunities. True. Modern day Franchises like Spider-Man and Shrek were created from scratch with the aim of making billions of dollars in cinemas and homes in various forms. But so long as effort has gone in to each ‘episode’ to give it a strong story and equally to tell it well, why should we not enjoy it? Comic-book adaptations are particularly prone to sequels, and why not? That’s the nature of comics, to tell stories over weeks and even months or years. It seems wrong to me that Spider-Man, Batman or Superman should be denied the opportunity for further exciting tales of their fantastical universes.
Equally, films like Die Hard or the James Bond series prove that a character can be worth returning to. If Ian Fleming or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could write multiple stories involving their famous creations, why shouldn’t movie-goers enjoy the same privilege?
Naturally, there will be hiccups and downright awful abominations (er, Batman & Robin, stop trying to hide behind your desk…). But if the characters and their worlds are good enough, they will prevail in the end (Batman Begins proved that). So all I would say is, when critics yet again berate the slate of sequels and spin-offs that Hollywood lines up for us suckers, remember that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Obviously variety is the spice of life, and in no way would I want to only see Franchise films. Some films just wouldn’t support a sequel, and quite rightly so. But neither would I want to be denied the opportunity to see a new Spidey flick.